Three years after the COVID-19 emergency health declaration took hold in San Diego County, the pandemic as we know it is finally coming to an end. Last Tuesday, San Diego County's state of emergency was lifted, which means that no more mask mandates, school closures, or hospital surge tents would be required in the foreseeable future.
California's state of emergency put into place in February 2020 “out of caution,” ultimately resulted in 74 executive orders and nearly 600 additional provisions that state officials say helped save thousands of lives.
"There were a lot of regulations that were suspended as a result of the pandemic to allow us to move faster," said Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder.
They allowed for higher patient-to-staff ratios and the ability to quickly add extra bed space, according to Van Gorder.
Last Thursday, Scripps had 83 COVID-19 patients admitted at their hospitals across the county. Still, that is far from the daily counts that reached up to 500 during surges.
The lifting of the local and state health emergency declaration means that local officials would not be able to take short-term measures, like a mask mandate or allocation of emergency funds for coronavirus mitigation, without an approval process, should cases rise again.
A spokesperson from California’s Department of Public Health (CDPH) said out of the nearly 600 provisions issued during the emergency, just 27 were in place through February of 2023. Masking is still required in healthcare settings and long-term care facilities. The CDPH spokesperson said those orders are not tied to the pandemic emergency ending, and more details are awaited on the vaccination requirements for healthcare workers.
"There’s probably a lot of people — including hospital employees — that are curious about that," Van Gorder said. "We’ll wait and see. The state may decide to waive that when they waive the health care emergency — or they may extend it."
The pandemic is not over yet, and the cases are not as low as Dr. Wilma Wooten, the San Diego County Public Health Officer, would like to see them. However, the virus has been producing new variants, and while things are relatively quiet, Dr. Eric Topol, the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, would like to see investments in better vaccines just in case they get a whole new family of variants beyond this omicron family that we've dealt with for well over a year.